The Mysterious: The Curse of Giles Corey

           This month’s mystery sets us off on a month-long journey into witch-related topics. Now, you might be asking yourself – Why? Spooky season just wrapped up. Halloween is over. Why witches? Well, Thanksgiving is coming up. Thanksgiving, which was first celebrated by Puritan colonizers – and Puritan colonizers would go on to settle the infamous Salem Village. Today, we will be discussing the death and legacy of one of the victims of the Salem Witch Trials. Who was Giles Corey, and was he responsible for the deaths of sheriffs in Salem for centuries after his death? Let’s explore.

Who Was Giles Corey?

          Giles Corey was born in August 1611 in Northampton, England. He moved to the American Colonies sometime before or around 1640, according to records. He lived in Salem Town for a time before moving to nearby Salem Village, where he bought land and became a successful farmer. He was not necessarily well-thought of, however. Corey was found guilty of beating one of his indentured servants to death, though he was only fined as “corporal punishment” was legally allowed to be used on indentured servants at the time.
          Throughout his life, Corey married three times. Once, in England, to a woman named Margaret. Margaret and Corey had four children together. Margaret died in 1664. That same year, Corey married Mary Bright. This second marriage resulted in one child. Mary Bright died in 1684. Now 80 years old, Corey married for a third time, to Martha Rich. Martha would go on to be accused of and arrested for witchcraft in March of 1692. Corey believe the accusations to be true…until he was also arrested for witchcraft one month later.
          Corey was examined for a witch’s mark, and subsequently refused to plead his case either way. He was thrown in prison and brought before the court that September, during which Mercy Lewis detailed her experience with Corey’s supposed magic. Corey continued his refusal to plead, and was sentenced to death.
        Corey was executed by pressing. He did not beg or plead for his life as more and more weight was piled on him. In some recountings of his death, he simply told the sheriff to continue adding the weight until he was dead. Many accounts claim Corey’s last words were a curse on the town of Salem.

(A drawing of the execution of Giles Corey, circa 1692.
via Wikimedia)

The Curse

          The curse Corey uttered wasn’t specific – most accounts state that it was simply “I curse you and Salem.” The you he was referring to in that statement was Sheriff George Corwin, who had presided over Corey’s trial and execution. He died at age 30 of a heart attack. He would not be the last Sheriff of Salem to meet that fate, either. As the story goes, Sheriff Robert Cahill had some time on his hands after he was forced into early retirement. He had developed heart problems and a blood disorder after working for the department for some time. Surely, he’d heard of the Curse of Giles Corey during his time there, and decided to see if he was a part of its pattern. His predecessor had, in fact, developed a blood disorder just like he had. And the one before him had died of a heart attack, just like George Corwin. And on and on, all the way back to the death of Corey, and his last words. Sheriffs have had bad luck in Salem. Their hearts fail and their blood poisons. But is it actually a curse?

Analysis

          So, I can see this both ways. I think it’s wicked cool that a dying persecuted man could curse the Authorities that are wrongfully killing him, and anyone that willingly takes on the role will suffer. But on the other hand, we don’t really know for sure what Giles Corey’s last words were. The other recorded possibility is that he told his executioners “more weight” – which is also incredible in its own right.
          Plus, the deaths and illnesses can’t really be contested. They definitely happened, and the men were all in the same position of the man that was responsible for murdering Giles Corey, regardless of whether his last words were a curse or not. But that position is also very intense and stressful. It also tends to involve a lot of late nights, caffeine, and on-the-go food. All of which can be risk factors for heart disease. However, that doesn’t explain the blood disorders.
          It also doesn’t explain the fact that these Salem Sheriff deaths seemed to stop when the Sheriff’s office relocated to Middleton in 1991. Since then, there have been no further reports of Sheriffs falling victim to blood disorders or heart disease. But that doesn’t mean Giles Corey isn’t still around – his spirit is said to haunt the Howard Street Cemetery, and is said to be a bad omen. If you see him, something bad is going to happen…

(Giles Corey’s burial marker.
via Find A Grave)

Sources

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